mystery, mismanagement, misappropriation, misperception; I could go on, there has been so much missed and there is so much currently amiss when it comes to public education in this country and in this state, that I hardly know where to start. I guess I’ll start with my own urban public school system closing schools as a result of what? well, of so many things. They site lack of enrollment and underutilized buildings. But closing schools is the symptom, the end result of what has preceeded and what has perpetuated this eventual outcome in the first place. It began with a myth and ends with a mystery. The myth is that public education cannot compete with and is substandard to private education, followed by the mystery of what will take its (public education’s) place and what will become of all its students when all these schools are closed?
This outcome has been in process for some time, moving slowly so as not to attract too loud an outcry or too large an opposition, keeping outrage to a minimum. Until one day I see on the evening news my school is closing along with some others, also my schools as well. I am sad, I am shocked, I am powerless, I am silent. Who decides these things anyway? Oh, they go through the motions of holding the meetings to “gather community input”. But in the end the dollar speaks louder than the voices of the people impacted by the closings. Voices that represent those that live and work in the community and send their children to school there.
The neighborhood school, this is what is being lost with all these school closings throughout the district. Having a school right in your neighborhood greatly increases the odds that student attendance will be good, hugely increases the opportunities for parent participation and involvement with their children’s school, lends itself to receiving community support, decreases transportation costs significantly for the district, decreases students’ time on buses (if any is needed) and increases the time students have to participate in after school activities. (which is so much easier for them to do if the school is in their neighborhood.) There is a sense of ownership and pride in one’s school which cannot develop when families do not have the opportunity to be involved due to distance and lack of transportation. (transportation which isn’t necessary if the school is within walking distance)
How did this happen? this decreasing enrollment? Where are the students going? To private, church or charter schools seems to be the answer. Now church and private schools have long been with us, co-existing alongside public education for years, providing an alternative option for those so inclined. Usually smaller, these private schools didn’t necessarily offer options such as football or band or a performing theater department which require a larger number of students simply to offer the program. Choices usually involve a trade-off. Giving up some things in order to gain what might be a better fit for a particular student, such as a smaller educational environment is the prerogative of any parent for their child.
Now here’s where myths and misconceptions enter in. Private does not mean better (than public) when it comes to education. A private school is simply an option, which might better meet the needs of some individual students while at the same time not be equipped or able to meet the needs of other students as well as a public school can. Students with special needs are a case in point. Public schools are equipped with trained professionals to provide for the needs of students with every kind of learning disability from dyslexia to autism. Public schools provide speech, language and hearing services as well as services to the physically impaired. They are required by law to provide an education that is accessible to every student and they have the staff to meet those needs. Another example is their provision of ESL teachers and classes for all students whose primary language is not English.
Just two weeks ago, I was in a country where school is not available for every child, as it is here in the United States. Education is not a right there but a privilege for the privileged who have the money to pay the school fees. Here, even those we consider disadvantaged have access to a free public education. They are not prevented from going to school and at school they have access to all kinds of services. For example, the teachers in the schools I work in often stay after school to provide extra help for their students. This after school tutoring would be costly but these teachers are giving this “after hours” service to their students free of charge on their own time. In the real world they could charge $40.00 plus an hour for this tutoring and be well within the going rate.
Why has enrollment declined in our public schools? The idea that private is always better combined with the voucher or school choice program has been the vehicle for much of what has taken place. The thing is these “vouchers” are paid for with public funds, taxpayer monies which are earmarked for the local, neighborhood public schools. Those that choose to attend a private or religious school should do so at their own expense. We are guaranteed an education, but not an expensive, private one. When I was ready to go to college what was available to me financially was limited to the four state universities in my state. My grades were more than sufficient for me to go anywhere, but financial realities dictated the limits of what was available for me to choose from. However, I was not denied a more than excellent college experience because of this. Just because the “perception” that an out of state, private college education would have been superior to what I received does not make it a reality. The same is true for the students caught up in the public vs. private debate. Private does not equal better, just different.
As students exit the public schools, so does the funding that follows them where they go. Charter schools receive the funds due the public schools, but do not provide education for all, but only for those whom they choose to accept. The public schools are stripped of their resources, resources needed to provide for all their students. As a taxpayer, I support neighborhood, public schools. They are good for the community and it is in the best interest of our society to educate ALL children, to insure a prepared workforce and citizens ready to participate fully in a free society. But I am NOT obligated to send any of them to private schools with my tax dollars. (my children all graduated from a public high school)
The news that they want to close Broadripple High School is particularly devastating. This high school is the magnate for the performing arts and offers many unique opportunities to its students that just can’t be found anywhere else. These students have the opportunity to participate in band, orchestra, choir, theater, dance and state of the art telecommunications courses as part of their free public education. The really wonderful thing for the students is that these courses are taught by professionals in their fields, they are getting professional dance instruction as part of their school day, dance lessons that would be cost prohibitive outside of school in the real world. Students are given private lessons on their chosen instrument or voice or piano lessons during the school day from professional musicians. These same lessons would be hugely expensive in the real world. I saw Broadripple H. S.’s production of “Sister Act” this past March and it was great. What an opportunity for so many students; from theater, choir, set design (art) lighting, costumes, marketing etc to put their learning into action and benefit the community as well by providing entertainment that was affordable and family friendly.
It’s unthinkable that this community landmark and resource should cease to exist. So much is at stake. I haven’t even mentioned yet the academic and sports programs which were also thriving. Nothing brings a community together like basketball does in Indiana! Broadripple H. S. has a history. A history that includes David Letterman as an alumnus of the school. Where are you now Mr. Letterman? We need you. Time to ride in on your white horse and save the day, well actually the school’s what needs saving, not the day. This could truly be a “David vs. Goliath” moment, if you know what I mean. Why must the dollar always dictate our decisions? (the high school sits on a prime piece of real estate in Broadripple. Selling it to developers will push property values, rents, and property taxes still higher in the area and the community will lose the asset of the historical, neighborhood school) There are more important things than money. Namely, the things that money can’t buy; like community spirit, like a future for our children based on giving them these educational experiences now.
There is so much more to say, dear readers about some of the other public high schools on the chopping block currently. Public education wasn’t broken, it’s being systematically defunded while we’re being told that it doesn’t work anymore. When the funds aren’t there, personnel and programs are let go and it’s the students who lose out. That’s what’s happening right before our eyes. Hopefully enough of us will wake up and speak out before it is too late. “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” includes the right to an education, hopefully at a neighborhood school near you!
“The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out.” ( Proverbs 18:15)
sincerely, Grace Day